Monday, November 25, 2019

Around the World in 50(ish) Toys

Our latest blog comes from Rebecca, one of our fantastic Volunteer Cataloguing Assistants, who has been supporting us with the collection behind the scenes at our museum store.

Around the World in 50(ish) Toys

Hong Kong, Chicago, Milan, Japan and… Thorpe Audlin!

What connects these places across the globe?

A collection of mid-twentieth century toys, games and activity books that I’ve been helping to catalogue. They were found in the loft of what was Thorpe Audlin Post Office by the new owners of the property. 5 miles south of Pontefract, and with a population of less than 700, I was struck by the connection between the local and the global.

Here I want to explore two examples to give a glimpse into the collection. I’ve chosen Kalkitos (action transfer or rub-on transfer sets) and a Pac-Man bubble blower, for the sheer amount of related locations, and because of my own interest in video games and printing.

Kalkitos is the brand name for a series of action transfer sets made in the late 70s and early 80s. A background scene on cardboard (for example a park) came with a sheet of images which could be transferred to the background. By rubbing with a stylus or pencil, characters and objects could be placed in any configuration, I’m sure often with comical results. There is a sense of nostalgia with these transfer sets. The physical process visibly links the action (rubbing) with the result (transfer), and they allow freedom and creativity. We have four Kalkitos in collection, including ‘Fred Flintstone at the Pool’ and a Looney Tunes scene.
But what journey led these objects to our museum store? The story actually begins elsewhere in England.

The transfer technique was developed by Letraset, who produced them first in London, then in Kent. However, our selection was manufactured in Italy, in a joint venture with Gillette (yes, the razor company!) As I understand it, the factory in Milan used a different printing method, and so the Kalkitos came to us via the continent. However, there are bonus connections: the titles are also in French, German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish, to increase the market and audience without having to print each separately. Funnily enough, it’s not in Italian despite the Milanese origin. Plus, of course, Warner Bros and Hanna Barbera are quintessential American animation studios.

So we’ve already been round Europe, but our next example goes further afield…

Pac-Man is an iconic character, universal in its simplicity. From his debut in the 1980 arcade game, the circular yellow munching-machine represents the influence of Japanese video games and media. Here, Pac-Man himself becomes a bubble blower, and the packing is charmingly illustrated (although there are some interesting fashion choices by the ghosts!)

With no mention of developer Namco, I initially thought it was unauthorised, but in fact this was another example of the global links.

All the way in Chicago, Illinois, Bally Midway had the Pac-Man licence for everywhere outside of Japan. This included merchandise, and the bubble blower is an example of the Pac-Man craze that swept America. In spite of all of these links, the toy was actually made in Hong Kong, where the vast majority of the toys in this collection were manufactured.

Both of these items, like all the toys in this collection, are interactive, and demand to be played with. The joy of playing is universal, and it has been fascinating going through the collection, and seeing all different paths leading back to a little hamlet in West Yorkshire. The global traces the toys have left ultimately led to creating delight and entertainment for the children (and perhaps adults!) of Thorpe Audlin.

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